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food, travel, food culture

Why “food 3D printing” will leave you hungry for more

As you know, the blog is taking a bit of a sabbatical whilst I am in Singapore – blame the hectic work schedule, the constant travelling (not that I am complaining) or a general lack of inspiration. But then I read about this and I felt I had to write and share my feelings of betrayal and disappointment. I cannot let my faithful readers in the dark, and maybe have them go through the same ordeal of raised hopes, sweet dreams and then shock and bitter disillusionment (ok being slightly dramatic here). 

food printing technology

From left to right: what you think 3D food printing looks like (gnomes); Foodini in all its glory; and the low-cost version of food 3D printing [photo credit: minimiam.com; www.foodini.com]


If you heard about food 3D printing and thought that finally your days peeling butternut squash or prepping artichokes or failing to make soufflés were gone. Well, they LIED TO YOU.
A few days ago, I was going about my daily procrastination news briefing and saw on my twitter feed two or three different sources all hailing the birth of real, commercially available, actual food 3D printing technology in the form of something called “Foodini”. The name evoked an army of tiny elves or minions making food for me, a bit like Gulliver’s Travel Lilliput “little people”.

 

Who wants a 3D printer for just candy when you can have one that prints a five-course dinner instead? [me! me! me!] That’s the idea behind Foodini, a new 3D printer that takes fresh ingredients and turns them into a culinary masterpiece. The device can do things like make custom ravioli, your own unique crackers or cookies, or even an intricate dark chocolate vase (if you just have to print candy). (from Engadget)

 

The annoyingly named Foodini project has been getting an incredible amount of coverage on mainstream and tech magazines alike, mostly in glowing terms – and mostly copied/pasted from its clever press release rather than based on an objective assessment of what the machine can currently achieve and how it does stack up against the sales pitch.

Here’s the marketing blurb from the project Kickstarter page:

“Foodini is the first 3D food printer to print all types of real, fresh, nutritious foods, from savory to sweet.”

Sounds wonderful doesn’it? Too bad that in reality “all types of food” seems to be a very restrictive field.

which type of food can be printed

With years of professional Powerpointing experience under my belt I made an awesome Venn diagram to show you exactly which type of food you can make with a 3D printer as of today

Let’s keep reading:

“One of our goals is to streamline some of cooking’s more repetitive activities – forming dough into fish-shaped crackers, or forming ravioli – to encourage more people to make fresh healthy foods.

I can hear you, another believer in the amazing power of technology, saying “Ok, fish-shaped crackers and ravioli are not exactly major food groups but certainly here they are just examples”. The problem is, there seem to be an awful shortage of other examples of what type of food exactly you can make with a 3D printer  in the literature about Foodini.

Read past the first paragraph or watch the sleek, well-timed Foodini “demo” video attentively and you will probably find yourself going on the same journey as the incredibly inquisitive Tech Chrunch reporter below:

“I was curious how the Foodini adapts to different recipes and textures, and the short answer is that it doesn’t.

(from Techcrunch)

To cut a long story short and in no scientific terms: 3D printing does not mean conjuring up matter from thin air (that’s Harry Potter and it’s made of the same stuff of Santa and Dabbous walk-ins), so you still DO need a base. In this case, the base must be something edible if you actually want to “print” food – and here’s the loophole that allows Foodini to say you can print “fresh, healthy food”: enter the CAPSULE.

What do you put in the magic ink capsule? Well, you guessed it: food. If you want it to be fresh food, you will have to prepare, cook AND mash/mince/puree the food and put it into the capsules.

But then hey! making ravioli is going to be SO easy*. And fish-shaped crackers**. Of sunflower shaped crackers. Or even (remember Techcruch?) a chocolate vase. That’s breakfast, lunch, dinner AND snacks sorted!!!

**you still have to cook the stuff

food 3dprinting how it works

from Foodini website

Now don’t get me wrong, for all my bitching I am not saying I could do any better. In all fairness, every technology must start somewhere and definitely Foodini looks very good for being such an early stage product. It will look very impressive on your countertop (on instead of your sofa, considering the average size of a London kitchen) and your armadillo-shaped kale and quinoa crackers will be the talk of the next dinner party.

The device is also aimed at restaurants and businesses, which makes complete sense. Definitely, if you are Bompass & Parr (or even just Bompass, or just Parr) and your wealth depends on your ability to make incredibly complex shapes out of jelly, you are going to use it quite a lot.

I guess I am just “not in the demographic” for Foodini. I like my Pringles just as they are, round and unhealthy, and if somebody made ravioli for me I couldn’t brag with my invitees which is rally all I do it for – because everyone can save up a couple grand and buy a “food printer” but not everyone can make ravioli.

Foodini has so far managed to crowdfund a bit over half than the $100,000 goal necessary to get the appliance from prototype to manufacturing. If you have spare change and feel like contributing to something really futuristic, go ahead and pledge for the future of food 3D printing, or time travel if you are so inclined – I think I’ll save mine for the day when Foodini is going to deliver on its name and makes me actual food, as the name deceptively suggest. Or a Martini (see what they did there?). In any shape, fish-shaped olive optional.

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